The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh
One of my favourite plays ever is Enda Walsh’s whip-smart two-hander, Disco Pigs. It follows two rebellious teenagers (the 1996 premiere starred Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh) on a breakneck rampage through shops, pubs and clubs in “Pork” (Cork) City. The play is set against the backdrop of socio-economic uncertainty in the run up to the millennium, but the unrequited love between the two characters is what’s most stirring.
Translations by Brian Friel
Set in Donegal at the turn of the 19th Century, Brian Friel’s Translations is a stunning rebuke of imperialism, and most definitely an influence on Martin McDonagh. The play charts the destruction of Irish culture as English army men plot a map of the country, translating Irish place names into English. Tensions rise as miscommunication between the English lieutenants and Irish natives breaks down.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett
Though originally written in French, Endgame by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett is a classic of modern theatre. Four characters pace a black, post-apocalyptic space, playing out the absurdity and meaninglessness of the human condition. I saw Complicité’s version with Mark Rylance in 2009, and was probably more existential dread than I could handle at the ripe old age of 15.
By The Bog of Cats by Marina Carr
Inspired by Euripedes’ Medea, By the Bog of Cats is in equal parts social commentary and tragic fantasy. Marina Carr is one of my favourite playwrights, and the stark, harrowing dialogue and themes of dispossession make this play a hugely underrated classic.
Eclipsed by Patricia Burke Brogan
Patricia Burke Brogan supervised briefly in Galway’s Magdalene laundry, but she decided to leave the order of the Sisters of Mercy and write about what she had witnessed.She was one of the first writers to do so, and her play was roundly rejected for being too controversial. Brogan’s play is stifling – the atmosphere thick with the steam of the laundry, but also with the weight of the world the girls carry on their shoulders.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Though Oscar Wilde thoroughly rejected the Irish identity he was indeed an Irishman by birth. The Importance of Being Earnest is again another classic of modern theatre. Spearing the societal mores and trivial obsessions of the upper-classes with his trademark wit, The Importance is Wilde’s most light-hearted plays.
I Know My Own Heart by Emma Donoghue
Before Gentleman Jack, Emma Donoghue’s play told the story of Anne Lister’s incredible life, extraordinary head for business and her forward-thinking approach to relationships. She was open about her sexuality, protected by her wealth and status, at a time when it was near-impossible to be. Donoghue’s play captures the lyricism of Lister’s own diaries, and there is a real depth and intimacy in the dialogue which is often absent from the BBC series.